Working as an archivist in heritage

For many people interested in humanities, and history more specifically, it can seem unfeasible to turn that passion into a career. Often, our school years have encouraged us to pursue more ‘practical’ or ‘commercial’ subjects. The archivist team at Great Place North Belfast are incredibly grateful to be working in their area of interest. We asked them just what having a job in heritage means to them!

Meet the team! L to R (Cara, James, Bridget and Jamie).

Cara: My name is Cara and I’m originally from Nottingham in England but have been living in Belfast for the last four years as a student at Queen’s University. It was my Master’s course in Public History that introduced me to the work of Great Place North Belfast. I initially completed a short internship at Great Place to fulfill part of my qualification, but soon became passionate about the projects I interacted with. Luckily, a slightly longer term position became available shortly afterwards. I’ve since been really enjoying learning about an area of Belfast which I was largely unfamiliar with and I now know it to be full of great history, stories and people!

James: My name is James, I am an archaeologist and archivist working for GPNB. Before the pandemic I was training to become a teacher. I was originally part of the team tasked with creating the archive at Belfast Orange Hall, before continuing on as an archive associate for GPNB and their other cluster members. It has been very rewarding working with the different members to safeguard the diverse local history of Belfast, and my home.

James at work cataloging archives from the Indian Community Centre

Jamie: My name is Jamie. I have been studying history for several years now, both in England and here in Northern Ireland. In November, I started working with Great Place North Belfast as part of an archiving project at the Belfast Orange Hall. Eventually, this project evolved into a more general archivist role within the cluster, assisting the Great Place members with recognising and maintaining their various collections. Working with the Great Place project has been an incredible way to gain insight into the heritage of Belfast, particularly through collections that are usually not accessible to the public. Sometimes, I find items or read letters that have not been seen in decades. Helping members showcase their history, and improving public understanding of the fascinating history of North Belfast, are easily the most rewarding aspects of this job.

Bridget: I’m 31 and came to Belfast from Raleigh, North Carolina in 2020 to study Public History because I wanted a Master’s degree with a more practical approach to history. My courses and internships showed me that I really enjoy archival work. I really love history and being able to do something with physical pieces of history has been my favourite thing. Our two projects for GPNB have allowed us to interact with historical books with local social information which has helped me to better understand Belfast, and North Belfast, a bit better since I’ve only been here for 2 years. I also love the organizational aspect and physically setting up an archive for others to use in their own research.

The team change between working on site, in the member building archives, and here at Clifton House

Our team works together to produce all of our online content! The initial stages of this process include working in the Heritage Cluster member buildings to assist in creating and organising a well catalogued archive collection. Often, this process produces a wealth of fascinating material related to each building, from never before seen photographs to old leaflets and books. The next step is creating a piece of digital media which we think will relate to our audiences. This involves collating information and images from what already exists online and weaving in information and imagery from the archives, this way we can create something original. The team agrees that being involved in this process this has been an extremely rewarding opportunity to work in a subject area we love. We hope you enjoy the products of this process as much as we enjoy creating them!

Members Involved